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Monday, February 02, 2015

One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark (History of the American West) by Collin G. Calloway

One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark
 (History of the American West)
 by Collin G. Calloway
University of Nebraska Press
p. 2003

  One Vast Winter Count is an able synthesis of a half-century of good work in the field of "Western American history."  This field has been marked indelibly by three unmistakable trends: ignorance of Native Americans, "discovery" of Native American history and integration of Native and European perspectives in narrating the history of the West.  The "Native American West" of the title refers not just to the greater Western United States, but also includes practically all of the United States east of the original thirteen colonies including the Midwest and and South East and what would today be Northern Mexico.

  The major development in this field between 1950 and today is a greater understanding of Native archeological sites like the Chaco Canyon complex, Cahokia/Monks mound outside of St. Louis, and other "mound" sites of the present South Eastern United States.  A thorough understanding of these locations and their representation of a complex Native civilization happening during the European Middle Ages was retarded by some of the trends listed above- notably an insistence that the archeological sites in North America were made by some culture OTHER than the ancestors of the tribes present after European contact.

 In one sense, it's true, because the experience of the Spanish traipsing through the Southern United States in the sixteenth century was itself enough to set off an epidemic of disease and warfare among the cultures who were themselves three centuries removed from the large civilizations of Cahokia and the South Eastern United States. 

  Thus, by the time the 17th century rolled around, the European powers were playing on a field that had already been drastically altered.  Calloway presents a coherent narrative of the time between the "fall" of the great culture complexes of the Native American Middle Ages and the gradual integration of the European experience- it happened over centuries, to rebut many of the stereotypes and misunderstanding about the contact between tribes and Europeans.   American education embraces the losers without acknowledging that there were Native winners who thrived and expanded for centuries after European contact.  The final subjugation of Native tribes was largely confined to the very end of the 19th century- an almost half millennium period between first contact and final "victory."

  This rewriting of the typical "conquest" narrative of books like Diamond's best seller, Guns, Germs and Steel is loooonngggggg over due, and someone seeking a coherent synthesis in recent developments in the field of pre-European North American history would be well obliged to check out One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West Before Lewis and Clark (History of the American West) by Collin G. Calloway.

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